Ugali Gold

 

8am Tuesday morning, I’m walking to work. That’s right, I walk to work. This physique of mine can’t just tone itself, you know!

So I’m walking. Rather briskly, I might add.

At Naivas Supermaket, I meet a guy. Normally, I wouldn’t pay him any attention. Matter of fact, I don’t remember what he looked like or what he wore. Only that he had a noticeable swagger…like he’d just won the lottery or something. In his hand, I saw the reason for the spring in his step – he was carrying maize flour! I was like whoa! Naivas has Unga!

Second guy, also carrying the stuff. Steady on Martha…past the supermarket I went. Five paces out, my footsteps falter. My inner voice is yelling at me –

“WTF Martha? Go get Ugali!”

So I do a 360, grit my teeth while the female guard pokes around in my bag. That (un)pleasantry out of the way, I make a bee line for the flour aisle. The whole thing feels WEIRD! I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of the supermarket this early. Seriously, I should be buying breakfast, not dinner! But I soon feel right at home. Everyone and their brother has 2 packs – at least! I meet a woman with 6 packs . “Gosh! She’s taking everything!”  My inner voice hisses.

At the farthest corner of the crowded aisle, I find the stash. It isn’t my favorite brand. I hesitate for a second…

“Is there no other brand?” a woman asks an attendant.

“Madam,” the attendant responds “Take the flour you can see right now.”

I take heed. Scoring 2 whole packs!

The mood in my mind changes. It sounds like a standing ovation in there…I can just see scores of mini people doing the Mexican wave “Olé, Olé, Olé,Olé…
Speaking of all things Mexican…is this flour one of them? Do I even want to touch that live wire?

On to more immediate issues –Ugali gold paid for…now what? Should I leave it at the luggage section and pick it later? Can I really trust those guys with my gold? Nope!  Sigh. My lovely walk just became a tad less enjoyable. What with having to lug 2 packs of unga!

Lost in this surreal excitement over unga, it  suddenly occurs to me that I’m now the focus of attention. I begin to wonder if I’ve just compromised my safety. Thoughts I reserve only for days when I carry a backpack. In Nairobi, backpack equals laptop equals target on your back! Just yesterday, this little old lady was walking too close to my backpack…I gave her one look and a wide berth. Yap! In Nairobi, you trust no one. Not even if they look like your loving grandma. Never know what laser sharp weapons they might be concealing under those harmless facades!

And to find that the reason for the latest red dot on my forehead is ugali? Now, I’ve really seen it all!

I get to the office safely. My colleagues eye me. But in the place of judgement, I see only awe.

“Is that unga?”
“How did you get unga?”

I feel like a savvy consultant.
“Naivas, -” I announce dramatically “- but I don’t know how much is left!”

And so, the narrative continues;

“Are you going to town? Please check if there’s unga.

“The queue is too long at Tusky’s.”

“This is madness!”

“I sure hope our stash outlasts this craziness!” Ms. Inner voice quips.

I agree with her.

When next I need to restock, I hope that ugali will once again be just ugali – National dish, not National treasure!

The Last Possible Minute

In the dying hours of 2016, I penned a vow to myself; a public one at that – No more procrastination.

Well, it’s the 4th of June and I’m proud to announce that my performance has been nothing but stellar so far…I’ve done everything on time, or you know, within the ‘time frame’ I intended to do it. What’s a few minutes here and there?

For instance, my alarm is set for 4.20am on weekdays. I know, and my phone knows that I have no intention whatsoever of waking up at this time. Of course once in a while, I actually get up on the first ring.

Scenario 1: PowerPoint presentation first thing in the morning and I didn’t get a chance to prepare it because…well, because the flipping weekend just beamed right past me! It’s not like I spent all weekend getting cozy with the housemates at Graceland. Honest. I just woke up, yawned a few times, next thing I know it’s a few hours to Monday morning. So I wake up on the first ring, because visions of an angry Boss are not exactly lullaby material.

Scenario 2: Morning flight to catch and of course I didn’t pack last night because…well, because I hate packing. Besides, it’s only 5 days in Homabay…so I’ll just ‘toss’ my well packed toilet bag, a few corporate t-shirts and pairs of jeans into my safari bag and I’ll be good to go! Plenty of time to do this in the morning. I’ll be up way before my alarm. Visions of missed flights? Way scarier than angry bosses! I like the security checks at the JKIA, but when you are pacing impatiently between mini heart attacks because your cab is just lost in the myriad of cars awaiting their security check, you begin to really question the system. And if sweaty and out of breath, you finally arrived at the check-in counter five minutes after it closed, you know you’ll never oversleep again.

There is no ‘time frame’ in scenarios 1 and 2. Only time.

Scenario 3: Normal day. Alarm goes off at 4.20am. My hand reaches out; my thumb finds the snooze button. Half an hour later, repeat action. A whole hour later, I drag my sleepy arse out of bed. No worries. I woke up within the time frame.

Just like I’m writing this post within the time frame. I’m hunched over my laptop, hopeful that I’m leaving behind a trail of fine writing clear of spelling mistakes because…well, because there won’t be time to proof read. Every Sunday, same thing. Of course I know better. I know that disciplined people set ‘internal deadlines’ aka the deadline before the actual deadline.

I do too. Mine is called ‘the last possible minute’. Next Sunday will be better. I’ll set the last possible minute a tad earlier than the last possible minute.

I was afraid

 

 

Before I started this blog, I talked and talked about it. It was an item on my ‘This-Time-I’ll-do-it’ list. You know that list, right? You must have one too. I don’t know how yours works, but mine just seems to grow numerically. More and more line items. Barely any marked ‘done’ or at the very least ‘attempted’.

But I take comfort in my list. It makes me feel like I’m doing something. Going somewhere. Each line item representing a thumbtack on my map. Oh, you should see my map…it’s a work of beauty.  A colorful maze of strategy. Never you mind if it appears static! I’m simply planning.

As I did with the blog. I planned more seriously than a general leading his troops to war. And then I planned some more. The mission was critical; the gains were unknown; the fails were limitless. And so I scrutinized every angle. Double-checked every voice of ‘reason’.

Once, I asked Steve – you remember Steve, right? He of the ‘Boy meets girl’ swimming coach saga? Yes, him. Turns out, the coaching gig is his night job. Is anyone shocked?

Anyway, I asked Steve if there would be any pressure to post articles once the blog was up and running. He burst out laughing.

“What pressure? It’s your platform. You do whatever you want, whenever you want!”

A whole year after this conversation, I finally plucked up my nerve. OK, this is only half the truth. The other half is that Steve basically issued an ultimatum.

“Look here Missy – it is five days to Christmas, so get your act together and do a Christmas post already!”

So I did. And then my nerves really kicked in. No pressure, indeed!

“Steve, what do you think of my article?”

“I’m traveling right now. I haven’t read it.”

Shit.

“Lamech, please check out my blog.”

Silence.

“Maina, please check out my blog.”

Silence.

Jackie, Lena, Juliex3, Patrick, Shirlyn, Winnie.  My inner circle was silent. And I was going crazy! They hated it and they just didn’t know how to say it without hurting my feelings. I chewed on that, and then I stewed, and then I got really mad. Say something, damn it!

I finally heard back from Jackie in the wee hours of the night. OK. It was only 8pm.

“I’ve had a really long day -”

Oh, don’t bullshit me lady!

“- but I’ll read this before I go to bed, promise.”

Great! I wonder what excuses the rest of the bunch will come up with.

At that moment, I would have given anything to turn the clock back to that morning. I so badly missed the bliss of planning. The silence on the battleground was brutal! Never ending!

In truth, it was barely half an hour since I’d shared the link with anyone. That’s how severe my melt down was!

The inner circle finally came through.  They reached through the vast wilderness and held my digital hand. My nerves relaxed a little bit. Time took care of the rest.

Eventually, it dawned on me that I was still breathing. It might seem ridiculous, that I was that petrified about launching something this small. But to me, it wasn’t just a blog. It was me, bare on the table. It was my dream, fragile and alone on the battle field. It was nothing. It was everything. It was freedom on the mountain top.

I finally stopped planning long enough to draw my sword and slay the giant of fear.

Well, ‘slay’ is an exaggeration. I merely brought the bugger to his knees. He’ll be back soon enough –  casting a shadow over every item on my ‘This-Time-I’ll-do-it’ list. I suppose I’ll just have to keep drawing my sword. Maybe someday I’ll put him down for good. Meantime, this sword-drawing thing is really growing on me!

Mama

 

I dig deep

Really deep

Deeper still

To the farthest reach of memory

But the reach of mine falls short of the day we met

The moment you first loved me, or I, you

The day I sprouted my first tooth

The second I tried that tooth on your tender nipple

How you kept from screaming so you wouldn’t scare me

My first fever

My first fall

My first jump

Memories I do not have the pleasure of having

Yet thinking of them brings sniffles to my nose

Sniffles hinged on a feeling that transverses space;

A feeling that reaches through time and holds my beating heart in its palm;

A feeling that like a storm, drenches me in awe of you Mama;

Awe of the memories I do not have

The ones I do have

The sweet ones

The difficult ones

The ones I stumble upon like money in a long forgotten shirt

The ones that come to me like a random flower floating in the wind

The ones that pry a smile from my bleeding heart;

The heart that bleeds this paltry tribute –

Tribute, I call it, but really it is nothing –

Nothing could ever come close;

Except perhaps my daily struggle

To be half the woman, half the mother

You are.

I, Rebel

 

The rebel in me can be loud and borderline cocky

She speaks to be heard

Performs to be seen

Taunts and saunters like she hasn’t a care in the world –

Least of all, for your opinion, and his and hers,

But she cares,

She twerks

She gyrates

She pops

Supposedly without a care for your irritation or acclamation

She lies though

I mean –

What use are broken rules if no one knows you broke them?

This rebel, I’m not particularly concerned about –

She is no rebel;

She limits herself to your rules.

 

The rebel in me can be quiet and downright unassuming

She speaks to speak

She performs to perform

She saunters and unknowingly taunts like she isn’t aware of perception-

Least of all your perception, and his and hers,

And she isn’t –

She revels

She laughs

She whistles

Oblivious to a fault of the eyes that see, roll, light up or arch up

Her ‘Ts’ are dotted, her ‘I’s’ are crossed

But she breaks no rules, she rewrites them –

This rebel, I’m taken by –

She is powerfully scandalous

Almost

Saw an almost crash –

One backed

The other braked

Not too sharply –

The tyres did not screech

The voices could have –

Would have –

There was cause to screech;

But one waved

The other waved back

And the almost crash –

The almost barrage of words –

The almost frothing at the mouth

Happened

Not at all

Almost as if

The almost crash

Didn’t almost happen

My babies

I’ve had many babies in my lifetime. Way more babies than I care to count.

I know what you’re thinking. How many babies can a woman have? Where the heck has she been hiding them? When did she become a man? Haha! I know, I know. Hiding babies is male territory. But, there’s this crop of women that hides babies, just so society…judgy judgy society can be less harsh on them.

But here’s the thing about society – it judges.

You can be the most loving mother, best student, hardest worker, top-notch-whatever-role-you-hold-in-the-highest-esteem…society will still judge you. And judge you hard.

There was a time I gave a hoot. Lost sleep. Sobbed till my eyes hurt. Hid my babies. Abandoned them because of the million-dollar question “What will people think?”

Funny how ‘people’ were always some amorphous cloud in the sky. On my worst days, they’d shadow me like dark rain clouds. Never lifting a finger to help, just their pretentious eyebrows. Boy, would they bring the worst thunder claps with them!

On my good days, they’d be distant and airy – little balls of wool on my otherwise, clear blue sky. Never a kind word from this lot. Sometimes, a few empty whispers. But just when I’d step out unprepared; the slightest sign that I was slipping, their dark natures would suddenly appear. Lightning and all.

These were the people whose opinions I cared enough about, that I hid my babies in the darkest attics. With nothing but cobwebs and dust to keep them warm, my babies became hypothermic. With no food, but the tiniest crumbs I tossed their way, my babies emaciated and decimated. With no love, but the sneakiest of winks, my babies shriveled, their confidence evaporated.

Until there was almost nothing left.

In the dead of night, when no one was looking, I ‘d toss and turn for hours on end. I’d turn my back on the closet of their misery. I’d pretend not to hear their feeble voices calling out to me. I’d fake a snore and hope it muffled the sound of my sobs.

And when my nerves caved in to those feeble calls, I’d dry my tears with the back of my hands, creep silently to the closet and take a little peek.

“You have to stop this!” I’d chastise “There’s just no room for you in this world.”

My babies would stare back forlornly, and I’d walk away, convinced that they’d been silenced, for good this time. But in windowless dreams, my babies sneaked in, somehow. And I’d wake, discontented and restless. But in the light of day, the amorphous clouds were always watching, always judging. And so I watered only the flowers that would please them.

Time went. And I began to love the flowers they loved. Well…I loved them only as much as you could a flower that gives you a bad rash or looks awful in your hair. But the clouds only laughed. Laughed harder, in fact, when I swelled up with failure.

I might have gone on like this, until one day, out of sheer frustration, I flung my empty hands in the air and screamed

“Nothing could ever please you!”

And that, was my eureka moment.

Nothing, could ever please this lot. So why the heck was I breaking my back?

I opened my closet. Found some of my babies, long dead – overtaken by time. Some alive, barely. I took them out to the sun and fed them.

Neglect had taken its toll. But every day, my babies grow stronger. Every day, I find that the pleasure of their company, far outweighs the misery that judgy society rains upon me.

My babies live, not for the clouds. My babies, simply live.

***

Every idea

Every dream

Every word

Conceived in my mind;

And left for naught for far too long;

My babies teeter with uncertainty –

Every step, a little steadier –

Making rhythm of the thunder claps

And in this expanse of freedom,

My babies begin to frolic in the sun,

And so do I.

Hats Off!

I’m no Saint.

This is probably one of the most useless phrases ever coined. I mean, it says literally nothing. It also sets the bar really low. The devil himself could use this phrase, and be 100% truthful! Think about that.

I know, you know what I mean – Ms. Look-the-other-way when a crippled beggar approaches. And you, Mr. Pee-by-the-roadside, you know better!

But hey, I’m not judging. OK, I am. A little bit. I mean, is it too much to ask that we not pee in public? Why force innocent passers-by to look hastily away, as if they are the ones being indecent? But you have your reasons, I’m sure. Just like I could easily explain keeping my eyes averted from every other beggar.

“I don’t have coins.” Oh, that makes perfect sense, because paper money is pretty much useless to beggars!

“Some beggars are frauds.” So true!

“My shillings won’t get him off the street.” So, so true!

I could go on and on. But here’s the clincher;

“I can’t help everyone.”

Bill Gates, with all his money, couldn’t help everyone if he wanted to. He is only worth 86.9 Billion dollars, and there are 7.5 Billion people in the world…mhhhh…

“Hey Gates…Pssst, I have some mathematical ideas (chuckle, chuckle)”

I can just hear Mr. Gates muttering under his breath “Can everyone just quit trying to divide my money?”

“Oh, sorry sir. I wasn’t going to suggest that all!”

“Right.” Eye roll.

Now there’s one thing I bet I could do better than Mr. Gates – eye rolls. I swear, if I had a penny for every time I’ve rolled my eyes…

Seriously though, what could I possibly do? My bank statement can hardly make a statement. Besides, there has to be someone better in the remaining 7.49 something, something billion people, right?

Someone better placed;

Someone smarter;

Someone born in the right continent;

Someone with the right skin color;

The right accent;

The right talent;

Someone raised in the right environment;

Taught the right things;

By the right teachers;

Someone with the right perspective;

The right opinion;

The right resources;

Someone better;

Surely, there must be!

But that’s just the thing – there is, and there isn’t.

I ‘m willing to bet my last penny, that almost everyone else is thinking the exact same thing. Laughing nervously and looking the other way. Holding their breath and waiting on someone else to do something.

Then, there are a few people – not saints or billionaires. Just ordinary people with yards of limitations and personal struggles. People who nevertheless, take it upon themselves to do something. Not publicly, in the way of politicians wishing to be reelected. Not selfishly, in the way of preachers, sowing only where they may reap. Not typically, in the way of good people, doing no wrong, righting no wrongs.

Today, I’d like to pay homage to one such person.

Francis Kinoti;

A man with passion the size of Kilimanjaro – You will find him unafraid in the heart of Baragoi.

Undaunted by cultural constraints, or the language barrier, he is right at home with the women of Nachola. For five years, he has worked tirelessly, to save the lives of the women and children. He has sensitized and adapted. He has built maternal shelters that conform to the Turkana culture.

He has lobbied and pleaded. He has dipped, many times into his own not-so-deep pocket, for a cause he believes in. Sending new mothers on their way, with care packages – second hand clothes for the newborns and some food for the family back home.

“We have never lost a baby or a mother,” He says with pride. The same pride with which he speaks of the flowers and vegetables thriving outside the maternity ward. The praises he lavishes upon the women who water them, in spite of the drought in this region. The women who cook for the laboring mothers. The women who stay with him, sometimes all night, while he helps brings to light, yet another miracle of birth. The women who protest loudly, when he tells them that he’s taking a short leave – the first in five years!

This man leaves me in awe.

If I never meet Barack Obama or Bill Gates, I’ll still know, that I’ve met a truly great person. A man who takes the little he has, turns it into something, and touches countless lives.

Take your hat off for Mr. Kinoti, won’t you? And while you do, ask yourself as I often do –

“What do I believe in, and what am I doing about it?”

Samburu

It’s a beehive in my head. Well…isn’t it always?

But this is different. Usually, the energy trickles all the way to my pinky toe. Not today though. Today it feels like someone packed me in a sack, tied a knot at the top and tossed it in the back of a groaning rickety truck with the potatoes!

In a manner of speaking, this is kind of what happened!

Ours wasn’t a rickety lorry. But on that bumpy road to Baragoi, it might as well have been. We churned so much, I think my breakfast turned to ghee. It was hot, so we kept the windows open. Rolled them up each time a vehicle approached with a cloud of dust. Four windows and four passengers…let’s just say the response wasn’t always timely. Lots of dust settled in my hair. Going by the observations of the others. Of course, they couldn’t see their own hair!

What we all saw, was endless road. I didn’t realize there were so many different versions of the question “How much farther?”

Thankfully, the spirit of adventure got the better of us. Amid the gaps of silence and the cracks of laughter, Samburu sprawled on before our eyes.

There were stretches (or blips) of road that had been selectively leveled – the way the car glided smoothly over them…sheer bliss. Then there were stretches of road, rough like you wouldn’t believe. Then there were spots of road, so rough they brought the car to a near stop.

We knew instinctively, that these were the black spots. The crevices where armed morans lurked patiently in wait. Nerve racking moments, if ever there were any!

There were moments when we stuck our phones out of the window to snap pixels of memory. The scenery before us was that beautiful. There were moments when the driver slowed down and we shuttered away. Then there were stretches when he simply shook his head and drove on.

“People don’t stop here.”

We knew not to ask for an explanation.

“On your left is the Suguta Valley.”

“Where the -?” Someone starts to ask

“Where 37 police officers were ambushed and killed. Yes.”

The fear in the car is now palpable.

“But the exact spot of the ambush is far from here.” He adds quickly.

Relief buoys open our chests. We amble on, neck on neck with the infamous valley. Signs of life are few and far in between. Flocks of animals running amok – seemingly without shepherds.

“Just hit a goat and see what happens.” The driver remarks.

Sure enough, we find dotted along the lonely road, sprinkles of shuka-clad morans. Sometimes lone; sometimes in groups of three or four. Sometimes leaning on sticks; sometimes seated on rocks. They seem harmless. But for a small detail- the AK 47 rifles hanging from their shoulders or resting passively by their sides. Harmless. Almost.

The journey continues, the sharp breaths and the stark beauty continue too. We vow to take better pictures on the way back. Finally, the annoying question begets an affirmative answer

“Yes. We are in Baragoi.”

Nothing could have prepared us for this deceptively quiet town. The air is so beautifully fresh. The food is delicious. The people look on curiously as we stroll past. We look curiously at the wooded slopes just beyond the town. Numerous battles have been fought there, numerous lives lost.

We retreat reluctantly to our rooms. The taps are dry, but the lights are on. For a scary moment, I notice movement just outside my scanty curtain. I freeze, my eyes glued to the window.

“It’s just a shaking tree branch!”  I heave. The night is poised to be long.

In the morning, we visit the monument erected in honor of The fallen Officers. A fresh unit of Officers has just arrived. They are dressed in full body armor; one cannot help but stand in awe of them.

“It is not easy but we do it.” The Commanding Officer tells us. The conflict pits friend against friend. Age mates. Neighbors. But during a raid, they suddenly become the Pokots VS the Turkanas or the Samburus. Sworn enemies.

“Is there hope that the conflict will end?”

“There is hope.” He says. “Change is slow, but change is coming.”

I look at him. I see his brave smile. And I believe him. I have to believe him.

There is hope. There has to be.

Ask my pillow

It is 8.25pm. As in 5 minutes to my bed time. That’s right, I clock out with the chicken. I don’t hear anyone judging when I rise at those ungodly hours – with the chicken – so I don’t expect any judgement on this side of the coin either. Besides, I do stay up late every blue moon. Don’t ask me how frequent those are – I haven’t a clue. People say stuff like this all the time, so I say it too!

It’s like when I buy water melon and hit it with my open palm – I have no idea what a good melon is supposed to sound like, but people around me are doing it, so I do it. Far be it for me to appear unsophisticated in this complicated arena! Life is hard enough without the pitiful eyes of water melon experts boring into my back as I saunter off with my fruit. But then I get home, split the bitch open and find white staring back at me.

Yeah. True story.

But here’s the one contest I could win right now – yawning. I yawn. And then I yawn some more. (I hear yawning is so contagious that even reading about it could make someone yawn.)

People are always telling me what a strong person I am. I’ve heard it so many times, it’s beginning to sound like one of those things that people just say for the heck of it. Like when you’re introduced to someone you really couldn’t care less about knowing, and the words just tumble out of your mouth;

“Pleased to meet you.”  Really?

“You are strong Martha.” Yeah, whatever.

I know I’m strong. I can handle stuff. I have handled stuff. (Universe, please don’t take this as an invitation to lug more obstacles down my path…I’m just saying). But as far as sleep deprivation goes, I’m as jelly as they come. Sleep is my nemesis. I never met an arch rival I love this much!

The things it has cost me. The things it has stolen, while I cozied in its embrace. The things I have gladly given up because “Tomorrow is another day.”

The Aces I’d have scored in high school, if only I’d had the tenacity to study in the wee hours!  Not me though. Not for lack of trying. I woke up a couple of times. Even dipped my warm feet in freezing water, just so I could stay awake and study. Flipped a few pages. Looked around at all the serious students hacking away. Flipped a few more pages. Yawned. Yawned some more.

Then the little devil on my shoulder would quip;

“How do you even know there’ll be a question from the section you are reading?”

Good point.

“Is this really worth your sleep?”

Errrm, Little Angel? Any time you want to speak up with a counter argument, I’m all ears!

“It’s better to fail the exam knowing you got your sleep, than to fail the exam, knowing you lost your sleep!”

That’s it! I’m going back to bed!

It was the same, every single time. I’d quietly crawl back to bed. At least I had the presence of mind to feel shame. But sleep always knew how to take care of that. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I’d beam to a place where shame wasn’t even a painting on the wall. A place I’m yearning to go right this instant. Not just me, though. There’s a crowd in my head chanting

“Sleep, sleep, sleep!”

The chants are getting louder. More fervent. I can’t ignore them much longer. This is after all a world where majority rules. But as heavy as my eyelids get, I know I must face up to my nemesis. Push back just a little bit. Rant a while about sleep deprivation, and pray to God, that this article comes off half coherent.

But the little devil quips;

“Tomorrow is a day too.”

And the little Angel stamps her foot. She does have a voice, after all;

“Yes. Tomorrow is a day too. So sleep tomorrow!”

Little devil coughs noisily but says nothing.

“Is the sleep really worth disappointing yourself?”

Not even a yawn from little devil!

“It is better to yawn from sleep deprivation, than to yawn from self deprivation.”

Little devil downs his fork and goes to sleep. He knows when he’s beat.

My nemesis smiles condescendingly at my little victory dance. She knows, it is only a matter of time before I crawl eagerly to her. For now, though, the crowd chants;

“You win! You win!”

I open my mouth to laugh, and a yawn bursts into throttle.

I too know, when I’m beat.